The 3 James Theory


Latin Catholics have always reputed James the Less as the same person as James the Just.
However John 7:5 says Jesus so-called brothers did not believe in Him, and Mark records that they thought Him mad. Any thoughts on this?


The standard Catholic view is that James the Just is the same man as James the Less, one of the Twelve. But among non-Catholic New Testament scholars this view finds little, if any, support these days. Instead, they identify him with the James who is mentioned in Matt 13:59, Mark 6:3, and Gal. 1:19, where he is named as one of the “brothers” of Jesus, and also in 1 Cor. 15:7.

The Greek word adelphos can mean full brother and it can also mean half-brother, stepbrother, or even (possibly) a more distant kinsman.

Martin Hengel writes in *Paul between Damascus and Antioch: *"Now [after Peter’s arrest and escape at Passover 43] the leadership of the earliest Jerusalem community passed to James the brother of the Lord and his body of elders, which is mentioned for the first time in Acts 11.30. The Lord’s brother was one of the earliest witnesses to the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15.7), but not one of the Twelve. Luke mentions him here for the first time (12.17), and in so doing suppresses the fact that he was the brother of the Lord.”

N.T. Wright ties the loose ends together very convincingly, I think, in his book The Resurrection of the Son of God. Discussing 1 Cor. 15:7, “Then he appeared to James,” Wright dismisses out of hand, in a throwaway parenthesis, the alleged identification of James the Just with James the Less: “(this clearly refers to the brother of Jesus, not to either of the members of the Twelve who had that name).” He then goes on to state his conclusion in a single carefully worded sentence: “Since he had probably not been a disciple of Jesus during the latter’s public career, it is difficult to account for his centrality and unrivalled leadership unless he himself was known to have seen the risen Jesus.”

There is a 472-page book, no less, dealing with every aspect of the “brethren” question: Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church, by Richard Bauckham. This one I haven’t read yet, but it’s on my list:


The Latin view, you mean. The East holds James son of Alphaeus and James the Just, ‘brother of God’ (Adelphotheos) to be two different persons.


I assume you know this, but the book of N.T. Wright’s you referenced is the third in a series of six, I think, that are planned. Personally, I think they are terrific books. Long, but wonderful to read.

James, the brother of Jesus, wasn’t very active in Jesus’ ministry until after the Resurrection. Then, of course, he became head of the Church in Jerusalem until his martyrdom.


This is just my personal theory, but I think that maybe, Jesus’ ‘brothers’ were moved to believe in Him because of the Resurrection. They might have been at odds with Him during His ministry - Jesus might have been estranged from most of His relatives during this time, but He won out in the end: the resurrection convinced them. I mean, as noted there was a tradition that Jesus appeared to James.

In fact, if you read the passage in John, you get the inference that Jesus’ brothers during His ministry did believe in Jesus, in a way: they apparently accept that He can perform miracles. (Note, Mary was in the wedding at Cana; it’s possible that the ‘brothers’ were there too.) Only, it’s not the ‘right’ kind of belief for the author of the gospel (the ‘brothers’ want Jesus to show Himself off; Jesus thinks otherwise).

Now the Jews’ feast of Tabernacles was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing. For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his brothers did not believe in him.
Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil. Go to the feast yourselves; I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” So saying, he remained in Galilee. But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.

In which case, they would really be like Jesus’ other disciples: they had an imperfect kind of ‘belief’ in Jesus at first, which the resurrection amended.


I think you are exactly right.


James’ leadership over the Church in Jerusalem can be seen in Acts 21:17-26. In my view, this is one of the strongest witnesses in the New Testament to the model of church governance where the regional churches each had a single bishop in charge, like in the Catholic Church today.

This model appears more strongly after the New Testament, and some scholars think something changed between the New Testament, which sometimes mentions several bishops in a region, and the time of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who seems to mention one bishop per region. I think the New Testament supports the view that one bishop was head of each region in the New Testament, especially when you look at James, and they sometimes had helper bishops that are precursors to what we now call auxiliary bishops.


But weren’t some of Jesus’ relatives among the Twelve, like James ben Alphaeus, or James bar Zebedee?


We don’t even know whether those two Jameses were Jesus’ relatives. The gospels never say that. All we know is that among the Twelve, there were two Jameses - one the son of a Zebedee, the other the son of an Alphaeus. We do not know whether Zebedee’s or Alphaeus’ respective families were family relatives of Jesus or not. Who knows, maybe they were just acquaintances. Or even maybe even total strangers.


Here are some deductions:

  1. James the Less( of the foursome, James/Joseph/Judas/Simon) is identified with Mary of Clopas. There are some that postulate that Clopas and Alphaeus is the same person. . If this James is identified to be James of Clopas/Alphaeus, then there would be 2 James of Alphaeus, one of which is an Apostle. Mark 6:1-3. This James is not an apostle as Jesus was with his disciples when he was teaching in the synagogue and the crowd was identifying his foursome adelphoi.
  2. James the Just is not James the Less. Clopas is identified as the brother of Joseph, father of Jesus. Eusebius, quoting Hegesippusi says James the Just is permitted to enter the Holy of Holies in the temple. Only Levites priests are permitted to enter the Holy of Holies. Hence James the Just is a Levite. Joseph/Clopas are of the house of David, non-Levites. (Therefore, James the Just can not be a blood brother of Jesus)
  3. John 7:5 disbelieving adelphoi are unnamed.
  4. Mark 3:21 those that thought Jesus mad were not adelphoi but friends.

Summary, there are 4 James.

James Zebedee - Apostle
James Alphaeus - Apostle
James Clopas - not apostle Mark 6:1-3
James the Just - Levite - not apostle 1 Cor 15:5,7

Mary's perpetual virginity

Do Eusebius and Hegesippus specify the Holy of Holies in this context? There seems to be something wrong there. The Holy of Holies was the innermost sanctum where no one at all ever set foot except the High Priest himself, and even so only once a year, on the Day of Atonement.


I am not sure what you are referring to about Jesus appearing to James - can you explain further? At any rate, I don’t think this is a good theory because there is nothing in scripture to support that James as an apostle was any less of a believer before the Resurrection than after, at least any more so than any of the other apostles). In fact, the very opposite. Since he is writer of some Epistles, and the one left to evangelize/witness to Jerusalem (no easy task) its more natural one would assume he was one of the stronger Apostles. Oh, and further, Jesus took James and Peter and John to the mountain for his Transfiguration. Peter, head of the Apostles, and John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and James. In that, we see James is grouped with the strong apostles, - not one who was struggling with faith.

As far as brothers of Jesus, James and Jude (Thaddeus) were cousins of Jesus (as you probably know already: no Aramaic word for “cousins”) and also brothers of each other. If you go to the most worthy, most eminent theologians (like St. Jerome!) of that age you find that their mother was Mary of Alphaeus (Cleophas). Or, as also says Papias of Hierapolis, who lived circa 70-163 AD, (Yet, Wikipedia says “modern Bible Scholars” question this! :rolleyes: Of course! 2000 years later we have new ideas!).

But, since nothing in scripture or tradition says that James and Jude were the “only” sons of Mary of Alphaeus, then it could well have been she had other sons [Joseph (Joses) and Simon have been named], who would also be “brothers” (cousins) of Jesus, that did not believe Him enough to be Apostles, but were moved to believe Him after the Resurrection.


Chapter 2 of *De Viris Illustribus *(link below) is, I think, the only place where Jerome mentions the question of James the Just’s family connection with Jesus. As you can see, Jerome does not say that James the Just was one of the Twelve. On the contrary, everything he says here is entirely compatible with what the OP is calling “the three James theory.”

  1. “James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Saviour to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James.
  2. He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath.
  3. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people.

Perhaps Hegesippus meant the holy place only, not including the holy of holies . That is before passing through the veil. My mistake. Still, James must be a Levite. So the question is whether James other than the High Priest, can enter the Holy Place and only the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. The way Hegesippus wrote it, it seems like James frequent the Holy Place regularly.


You’re really talking about James son of Zebedee here. I was talking about James the Just, ‘brother’ of Jesus - or as he is known in the East, the ‘brother of God’ (Adelphotheos).

And yes, the Epistle of James is most likely written by James the Just. As you might know, James son of Zebedee was martyred early - in fact, he was the first apostle to be killed. (Fun fact: Martin Luther mistakenly assumed that the ‘James’ who wrote the letter was James son of Zebedee, which actually was one of the reasons why he questioned that epistle: if the son of Zebedee was killed early, how could he have written that epistle?)

The tradition about Jesus appearing to James the Just comes from a Jewish Christian gospel that St. Jerome (mistakenly) assumed was the long-lost ‘Hebrew’ version of the gospel of Matthew, the ‘gospel of the Hebrews’. Jerome writes:

Also the gospel called according to the Hebrews, recently translated by me into Greek and Latin, which Origen often uses, says, after the resurrection of the Savior: “Now the Lord, when he had given the linen cloth to the servant of the priest, went to James and appeared to him (for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he had drunk the Lord’s cup until he should see him risen from among them that sleep).” And a little further on the Lord says, “Bring a table and bread.” And immediately it is added, "He took bread and blessed and broke and gave it to James the Just and said to him, “My brother, eat your bread, for the Son of man is risen from among them that sleep.’”

Now I don’t think that this tradition as described here is necessarily historical, but I personally do think that there’s a grain of truth in the story: the resurrection was what sealed the deal for James and the other ‘brothers’ of Jesus.

As far as brothers of Jesus, James and Jude (Thaddeus) were cousins of Jesus (as you probably know already: no Aramaic word for “cousins”) and also brothers of each other. If you go to the most worthy, most eminent theologians (like St. Jerome!) of that age you find that their mother was Mary of Alphaeus (Cleophas). Or, as also says Papias of Hierapolis, who lived circa 70-163 AD, (Yet, Wikipedia says “modern Bible Scholars” question this! :rolleyes: Of course! 2000 years later we have new ideas!).

But, since nothing in scripture or tradition says that James and Jude were the “only” sons of Mary of Alphaeus, then it could well have been she had other sons [Joseph (Joses) and Simon have been named], who would also be “brothers” (cousins) of Jesus, that did not believe Him enough to be Apostles, but were moved to believe Him after the Resurrection.

I’ll admit: I really don’t subscribe anymore to the ‘cousin’ theory, which was popularized by St. Jerome. (I do think however that one of its strengths is how it highlights the broad use of the term ‘brother’ in that culture.) I personally side with the earlier tradition (the one you find in the Protoevangelium of James and the one still adopted by Eastern Christians) that the ‘siblings’ of Jesus were Joseph’s children from a previous marriage.



Maria mater Domini.
Maria Cleophae, sive Alphei uxor, quae fuit mater Iacobi episcopi et apostoli et Symonis et Thadei et cuiusdam Ioseph: Maria Salome uxor Zebedei mater Ioannis evangelistae et Iacobi: Maria Magdalene: istae quatuor in Evangelio reperiuntur. Iacobus et Iudas et Ioseph filii erant materterae Domini; Iacobus quoque et Ioannes alterius matertrae Domini fuerunt filii. Maria Jacobi minoris et Joseph mater, uxor Alphei, soror fuit Mariae matris Domini, quam Cleophae Joannes nominat vel a patre vel a gentilitatis familia vel alia causa. Maria Salome a viro vel a vico dicitur: hanc eandem Cleophae quidam dicunt quod duos viros habuerit.
Maria dicitur illuminatrix sive stella maris, genuit enim lumen mundi; sermone autem Syro Domina nuncupatur, quia genuit Dominum.’

Mary the mother of the Lord; (2) Mary the wife of Cleophas or Alphaeus, who was the mother of James the bishop and apostle, and of Simon and Thaddeus, and of one Joseph; (3) Mary Salome, wife of Zebedee, mother of John the evangelist and James; (4) Mary Magdalene. These four are found in the Gospel. James and Judas and Joseph were sons of an aunt (2) of the Lord’s. James also and John were sons of another aunt (3) of the Lord’s. Mary (2), mother of James the Less and Joseph, wife of Alphaeus was the sister of Mary the mother of the Lord, whom John names of Cleophas, either from her father or from the family of the clan, or for some other reason. Mary Salome (3) is called Salome either from her husband or her village. Some affirm that she is the same as Mary of Cleophas, because she had two husbands.

As for this Papias quote: the ‘Papias’ who wrote the quote isn’t actually the early Church Father, but a medieval (11th century) Italian writer of the same name, who wrote a Latin dictionary/lexicon called Elementarium doctrinae rudimentum, of which this was one of the entries (actually three entries).. This quote was found in a 14th century manuscript attributed to a ‘Papias’ (the Italian Papias’ dictionary was quite popular in its heyday); people apparently confused the later Papias with the earlier Papias. (What really gave away the quote is how in the original Latin - yes, the quote was in Latin - the statement about Mary being Cl(e)ophas’ wife is word-for-word identical with what St. Jerome wrote.)


Well, the question here is: how can we be sure that the information is factual? Who knows? Maybe Hegesippus, who lived long after the Temple was actually destroyed, was engaging in exegetical deductions (James alone fulfilled the conditions Ezekiel 44 lays down for entering the gates of the inner court of the Temple), or the whole thing is actually a metaphor (the ‘Temple’ as the messianic Israel - i.e. the Church - and pious James as the new Zadok who alone entered the inner court when he offered sacrifices of intercessory prayer for his people) that was later confused as a literal account of James the priest going to the temple. (Fun fact: the Greek version does say that James entered “the holy place,” but the Latin and Syriac versions turn it into “the holy of holies,” thus actually insinuating James was high priest!)

The thing with Hegesippus’ story about James is it’s really ‘scriptural’: the various descriptions concerning James’ piety and asceticism come from Numbers 6 (the Nazirite vow), Judges 13 (the description of what Samson as a Nazirite would live like), and Ezekiel 44 (the eschatological Temple).

IMHO James would have been a pious person, and it’s possible that he took the Nazirite vow for some time (we know St. Paul did, so it’s not unlikely), but I don’t think the references to him being a priest - much less high priest - is literal.


I pointed out my mistake that Hegesippus said Holy Place and NOT Holy of Holies.

We have only Hegesippus writings that tell us who is James the Just. Raising question on factualness of recorded historical events would therefore apply to ALL historical writings and would have rendered study of history a useless pursuit if we adopt that mindset. And that is a usual tactic used by non-believers. Who knows, no video recording, someone had a bad day wrote something, someone had a dream wrote something, someone making things up because he got nothing better to do etc. Hegesippus did not say James took the Nazirite vow. (And neither did Josephus) Instead he said James was holy right from birth. We shouldn’t make conclusions make upon similarities solely and maybes.

Nazirite vow takers can be man or woman and I don’t believe that those who have taken the Nazirite vow can enter the Holy Place. It has always been reserved for priests. Unless you can give some definite evidence, your assertions are just suppositions, correlated but not evidence… Just because he didn’t drink and didn’t cut his hair does not make him a Nazirite. Nazirite vow is temporary with a fixed time of observance. James appears to be in a permanent mode and hence unlikely to be a Nazirite.

But we do know that relatives of Jesus are indeed priests. Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, was a priest. Elizabeth and Mary are described as syngenis. James the Just, brother of the Lord, is some how related and a priest too.


Is there is a possibility that Epistle of James is written by James the Less? Because Epistle of Jude says his brother is James and we know the foursome of Mary Clopas has James and Jude and that Simon was later made the 2nd Bishop of Jerusalem after the death of James the Just. Eusibius Church History:

And after James the Just had suffered martyrdom, as the Lord had also on the same account, Symeon, the son of the Lord’s uncle, Clopas, was appointed the next bishop. All proposed him as second bishop because he was a cousin of the Lord.

So the foursome of Mary Clopas are cousins of Jesus because Clopas is the uncle of Jesus.

The tradition about Jesus appearing to James the Just comes from a Jewish Christian gospel that St. Jerome (mistakenly) assumed was the long-lost ‘Hebrew’ version of the gospel of Matthew, the ‘gospel of the Hebrews’.

It appears in Paul’s 1 Cor 15:7.


I wanted to add that James the Just living style parallels that of John the Baptist. Luk 1:15

…and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb

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